Guerrilla Handbell Strikeforce

For our latest mission, a 13-member handbell choir provided some unexpected accompaniment for a Salvation Army bell ringer on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Enjoy the video first and then go behind the scenes with our report below.

Agent Eppink came up with the idea for Guerrilla Handbell Strikeforce several years ago but couldn’t find a handbell choir to pull it off. When he approached me about doing it with Improv Everywhere I immediately loved the idea. It sort of felt like a Christmas version of our old Best Buy mission.

Agent Eppink got in touch with Cory Davis, the bell choir conductor for Christ Church United Methodist in Manhattan, and he quickly agreed to have his choir help out. The church was located right in the heart of Midtown, which made their rehearsal room a perfect staging point for the mission.

The bells
Agent Davis arranged a version of “Joy to the World” that could start with one bell and gradually grow to include the entire choir. We wanted the mission to have a slow build.

The choir rehearsing before the mission
Since this mission was all about sound, we brought Agent Reed on board to make sure we got the best possible audio. He put wireless mics on three of the bell ringers.

Agent Reed puts a mic on Agent Davis
After the choir finished rehearsing we spent some time staging the choreography of the handbell ringers’ entrances and coordinating our video strategy. Most of the cameras used to document this mission were DSLRs. Because they look like still cameras, our agents were able to blend in with the other tourists on the street snapping photos of New York.

On the move
Agents Eppink, Adams, and I spent a couple of nights scouting the neighborhood to figure out where the Salvation Army bell ringers normally set up shop. During the day you’re likely to find them all over the place, but at night there was only one spot where they stayed late– Bloomingdale’s.


The choir hiding around the corner
As we hoped, there was a bell ringer stationed in front of the entrance to the store. The Salvation Army often uses volunteers for this job, but in New York almost all of the bell ringers are paid, seasonal employees. Our goal with this mission wasn’t to make any sort of statement about the Salvation Army (an organization that I’m sure does lots of great charitable work, but also is not without controversy), but to create an awesome moment for one bell ringer and the random New Yorkers and tourists who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The bell ringer, moments before
The bell ringer was set up right by the curb, facing the store entrance. In order to stand behind him, some members of the choir would have to stand on the edge of the street. I was worried about the busy traffic on Lexington Avenue, so as a safety precaution I stood in the street to make sure cars stayed clear. The lane was mostly used by cabs picking up customers, so we wouldn’t gum up traffic too much for the two minutes we were there. All I needed was an orange vest and a traffic cone to look official.

Agent Davis walked out and stood next to the bell ringer with his enormous bass bell and red apron. “How you doing?” he asked, and then started playing. The juxtaposition of his huge bell and the bell ringer’s tiny one was really a prank all by itself. The bell ringer immediately started laughing.

The second agent arrives

More arrive

8 more choir members create a back row

The Salvation Army ringer becomes part of an ensemble
Once everyone was in place, the choir began their rendition of “Joy to the World.” Christmas shoppers on the street starting stopping to watch and take photos.

An employee ducks his head out to see what’s going on
My guess is that most of the people who witnessed the mission figured it was either an official Salvation Army performance or perhaps a promotion that was produced by Bloomingdale’s.

After the song ended, the handbell choir starting leaving in the reverse order in which they came, working back down to just Agent Davis and the Salvation Army worker.

Just a few minutes after it had begun, the bell ringer was again by himself on the street and the choir was nowhere to be found.

Shortly after the mission, Agent Eppink and I had conversations with the bell ringer, posing as random curious people. He didn’t speak much English, but fortunately a friend of one of the choir members who happened to be standing nearby was fluent in Spanish. We recorded a little interview with him in Spanish and then translated it:

Well, first I thought they had come from the store here, that they were part of the business. “That’s fine,” I said to myself. I saw that they all had red aprons like me… When the first guy came, I wanted to say, “Hey! Give me that bell, and I’ll give you this one!” Then I saw that they were all coming up surrounding me and I said to myself, “OK, what’s going on?” It’s Christmastime, so we’ve got to be merry… If we’re not merry here amongst ourselves, then what do we have to be merry about? But yeah, the whole thing was really nice.

Mission Accomplished.


Agent Sokoler’s Flickr Set


    • I have to say you also generated a huge buzz in the handbell community as well. Wife is part of 2 different choirs. This would be a really neat thing to see emulated in all the state capitals of US. Question is…could you pull it off?

      • I agree! Fellow bell-ringer here who is enamored with this mission. Improv Everywhere and handbells? Gotta love the combination! I’d love to see this replicated :D

    • Great idea guys!!

      And actually, no the Salvation Army doesn’t discriminate at all! They spend an awful lot of time with everyone, doesn’t matter if they are gay or not,

      • Actually, Amanda, you’re just dead wrong about that. The Salvation Army has a long history of discriminating against gay people, and in fact have threatened to shut down soup kitchens that feed homeless people in both New York and San Francisco if they are forced to treat their gay employees the same way they treat their straight employees. When the San Francisco office granted health coverage to the same-sex partners of their employees, the central office of the Salvation Army changed their entire health-care policy for the whole world, just specifically to discriminate against gays. So please don’t say that the Salvation Army doesn’t discriminate, when clearly you have NO IDEA what you’re talking about.

        • This is taken from the public portion of the Salvation Army’s website (under “About Us” > “Position Statement”)
          The Salvation Army holds a positive view of human sexuality. Where a man and a woman love each other, sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage. However, in the Christian view, sexual intimacy is not essential to a healthy, full, and rich life. Apart from marriage, the scriptural standard is celibacy.

          Sexual attraction to the same sex is a matter of profound complexity. Whatever the causes may be, attempts to deny its reality or to marginalize those of a same-sex orientation have not been helpful. The Salvation Army does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself. Homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, requires individual responsibility and must be guided by the light of scriptural teaching.

          Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

          Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.

          In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation. The fellowship of Salvation Army worship is open to all sincere seekers of faith in Christ, and membership in The Salvation Army church body is open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.

          Now they may not agree with someone’s choice to practice homosexuality but they will not discriminate in their charitable giving or employment at stores, admin support, etc. There is a difference and they do have the right to hold their views. Many practitioners of Judaism, Islam, Mormon, to name a few follow similar beliefs.

          Does agreement to disagree make any person less of a person. We may follow different beliefs but there are great needs that can be met when we can put aside our differences and work together to meet them. SA is just one of many organisations that do a great job of meeting those needs, regardless of one’s personal creed.

          • I think the target here was the bell ringer who is the only one out still ringing his bell for charity at night in the cold.

        • However, those that receive assistance from the Salvation Army are NEVER discriminated against. And I do know of what I speak.

    • Mark – You are wrong. I have worked with a variety of charitable organizations and the Salvation Army is by far the most outstanding I have ever encountered. I don’t know where you got your anti-gay story from, but it is false. They won’t refute it because they just don’t, but I will. I don’t know if you do any charity giving, but I can assure you that the Salvation Army gives the most bang for the buck. The bell-ringers get a cut from their bucket, of course, but all of the ones I have met are honest and seriously down on their luck. Unseen are many others, given jobs fixing things that are donated. They are paid, too. They are also given kindness and help repairing often seriously broken lives. Most of the people in the Salvation Army are volunteers. Their professional staff is paid far less than those in any other charity. They don’t make a big deal about that because they just don’t. If you have it in your heart this holiday season to open your wallet for the needy, I could not recommend the Salvation Army more highly.

      By the way, nice job Improv. My only complaint is that I wish it lasted longer. – George

      • You know, you wrote an awful lot of words words words about the Salvation Army, and even told Mark unequivocally that he was wrong…but Mark is right! The Salvation Army DOES discriminate against gay people, it always has, it says openly that it does, it does not apologize for its hatred, and your entire paragraph had nothing at all whatsoever to do with the fact that Mark was 100% correct! Really people, if you think the Salvation Army is a good organization despite the fact that they hate gays and deny them equal treatment, just admit that you’re a homophobe and be done with it. Don’t lie, don’t make uninformed statements that are wrong, and don’t say other people who are educated about the issue are wrong, when they’re not. It’s sad. Can you imagine if they treated black people the way they treat gay people? If the Salvation Army refused to give benefits to their black employees, and only gave them to their white employees?? None of you would donate a dime. But they only discriminate against gay people, so you have no problem with that at all, and even tell the gay people bringing up the subject that they’re wrong and they should shut up and go away. Very, very sad.

      • Like michelle said, they don’t allow gays in the organisation I think that counts as discrimination.
        I think you should apologize to Mark ^^

      • Yes, they absolutely do discriminate against gay people in their hiring policies and in their employee benefits, just to name two areas. Why you would go out of your way to make a totally factually incorrect statement like that, without bothering to do 60 seconds worth of research, is beyond me. It could only be motivated by utter ignorance and sloth, or extreme homophobic hatred. Anna Beth, are you a liar, just incredibly lazy, do you hate gay people, or is it all three…?

      • Not everyone may have the same experiences with the same organization, especially one as large as Salvation Army.
        It is fairly widely known that they supported efforts to overthrow anti-gay discrimination laws in certain states to avoid hiring gays.
        The organization does great work. But good work in one area does not excuse discrimination in another.

    • you do realize that the salvation army is a church? They’re not just a random charity…

      the word Salvation (as in Jesus came and died for your SALVATION) didn’t give it away?

      lol silly people

    • Oh relax….I’m a gay civil rights activist and don’t mind a at all. They added a bit of light to the guys night, not to mention probably brought in extra money for those in need. Do you stand outside in the freezing cold for hours ringing a bell for charity? No need to respond.
      Happy Holidays everyone.

    • This really nice display of Christmas harmony is exhibited and somehow homesexualtiy comes in. Well so long as it is going to be made an issue let me say this. Practicing Homosexuals do not line up with Christian teaching. Therefore they are not qualifed to represent a Christian organization. Just like I am excluded from an operating room to perform surgery since I know nothing about it. It is that simple. Homosexuals who recognize the practice as a sin like so many sins that we all commit are welcome in the Chruch to worship like all the rest of us sinners.

  1. So far as I can tell, the only way they discriminate against gays is that they won’t allow gays to join their army. But that’s enough to keep me from donating anything to them.

    • Yeah the US Army doesn’t allow gays either, so I don’t pay any taxes whatsoever. And Canada doesn’t allow convicted DUI’s into the country either, so I boycott all canadian bacon. And the AARP doesn’t allow people under 55 to join, so I boycott all businesses that employ seniors. and… and… and… and…. the girl scouts don’t allow boys to join, so I call the police on any trespassing cookie sellers. (Just kidding!!!)

      Of course you know, hating people who hate gays is still hating.

      • Way to go, Ithinkyernuts – well spoken. This discrimination thing is (as always) so sad. Hate is what it is – hate. We get so busy figuring out ways to ‘boycott’ somebody or some group on a “principle’ — wait a minute — isn’t a ‘principle’ (in this case) based on a MORAL stand? Isn’t MORALITY based on biblical truths (since biblical truth – like it or not – is the basis of morality.) Taking a stand is what the Salvation Army is doing by NOT including Gays. Taking a stand is what YOU are doing by not contributing to them because of it. But I wonder — if you were in need — and the Salvation Army offered to help you — would you turn it down? Don’t be too quidk to answer….Think about it!

        • Are you kidding me? “Biblical truth” – whatever that is – is NOT the basis of morality as a whole. I’m sorry. Next thing you’ll be telling me all people who aren’t from nations mostly populated by followers of Abrahamic religions are amoral.
          It may be the basis for your morality, but don’t tar everyone with it.
          As an aside: we were also NOT founded on Christian values.

          • ok soooo evolution is true right? and you’re an animal and I am an animal, and we make up our own rules, then why is it wrong for people to kill and eat each other? or burn down houses and schools or rape women and children?

            Three Cheers for Gabriellas Morality!!

          • Gabriella:
            Sorry, but historical facts refute your statement that the United States was NOT founded on Christian values. Check out a coin, a state building, etc. etc. How about reading a book on historical facts: “The Book that made America: How the Bible formed our nation” Author: Jerry Newcombe. or you can check the U.S. Government historical archives. All of the founding fathers unedited speeches and the constitution include the fact and in fact, warn that if we walk away from this principle we will face a loss of freedeom…something which is happening today as people such as you ignore the foundation on which the United States was built.

          • The The Treaty of Tripoli (an official US document) specifically states that the US was NOT founded on christianity.

            Most of the things Audm mentions as “proof” that the US was founded as a christian nation started in the 1950s! That hardly proves anything! “In god we trust” was put onto money in 1957 & the creator of the Pledge of Allegiance did NOT originally have any mention of god in it.

            Also, the main people who wrote the Constitution were people who did not believe in the christian god! How can you say that the country is falling away from the way it was founded? Don’t beleive what your church tells you, look up documents that these people actually wrote & you’ll see the truth.
            You do NOT need the bible to be moral (ask anyone not christian!). Since many of the recent wars have been waged because of your book, I don’t even see how comments like this make sense.
            Hate is hate, that was said correctly. Speaking your discontent with your wallet is hardly considered “hating” though.

        • i think morality is not originally based off of the bible, because wasn’t there morals before the bible was written? i think the bible is just a document that in a way was an ancient constitution, providing simple guidelines to life. as an anarchist i don’t believe in written law, but there is no doubt that the bible has AFFECTED our modern moral beliefs, especially for those who follow the bible. i also believe that there are morals that the bible is wrong about, but saying that morality is PURELY biblical is incorrect, as is saying that it is NOT AT ALL based on biblical concept. the salvation army just uses the BIBLE as a model for the goals of their institution, to give to the needy and provide “miracles” to those who need them. i personally dislike religion however, but one must be blind not to see just a few of the positive effects, even if they don’t outweigh the negative.

          you can debate it all you want, but remember to respect each others opinions. its not about winning, its about finding truth. don’t be dickholes.

        • in the bible there were instances of genocide (sodom and gomorrah) and human sacrifice. that doesn’t seem to be high up on a scale of morality to me..

      • Thank you!! If you disagree with an organization, don’t donate to it, don’t help it, but stop with all the name calling! I believe in religious tolerance, which means we should tolerate religious beliefs, yes, even Christians. Those Christians would be fake and phony if they didn’t stand up for what they believe in. So give them a break.

      • Well, technically, ithinkyernuts, the US Army does allow gays in as long as you don’t tell them you’re gay.

        Also, anyone can join the AARP. If you are under 50 (not 55), you can join at the associate membership level. The only difference is that you don’t get a membership card and are not eligible for SOME, but not all of the discounts the group offers. Most of these are bogus and far worse than what you’d get through a AAA membership or from your college’s alumni association, but these are the facts.

        Anyway, just some fact checking for you.

        As for donating to the S.A., there is a lot of competition for my charitable dollar, I’ll choose to give it to a group that doesn’t discriminate in employment. My choice.

  2. Well done, guys. A surprise Christmastime celebration for shoppers, donors, tourists, and that awesome Salvation Army volunteer alike. Wish I could’ve seen it!

    • I love the randomness of it all!!! One minute the guy is just doing his job, the next he is surrounded by a dozen bell ringers. Thanks for the smile!

  3. Great job to Charlie, IE, and the Christ Church bell choir! Really nicely done.

    And for New Yorkers in the neighborhood – Christ Church itself is a hidden architectural gem in midtown – worth taking a look at the mosaics in the space – it’s open most days. Park Ave and 60th St.

  4. Great idea!!

    To the people talking about Salvation Army — If you’ll read below the 7th picture, it clearly states: “Our goal with this mission wasn’t to make any sort of statement about the Salvation Army (an organization that I’m sure does lots of great charitable work, but also is not without controversy), but to create an awesome moment for one bell ringer and the random New Yorkers and tourists who happened to be in the right place at the right time.” They didn’t do it because it’s the Salvation Army. They did it to brighten that one guy’s day. I can respect your decisions wholeheartedly regarding the SA, but be sure you’re reading the info before you post. kthxbai

    • Unfortunately in this day in age people just skim through posts and do not get all the facts before commenting. Seems like that article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” is correct.

  5. How totally awesome! What a wonderful way to brighten peoples evening on a cold night in the city. You guys need to do something like this in Roanoke, VA. I just hope a camera man happens to be there to capture it.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. best one ever. you guys are prime time ready. the network guys need to get off their butts and get you into the game.

  7. Nice idea. Sadly, almost too simple though or over too soon should I say?

    I don’t see how one should have animosity against an organization where it’s based around a religion who doesn’t respect gays. It is their belief & it is a free country. The money you don’t give them is money that doesn’t go to a good cause. Because they don’t use the money to do anti-gay rallies, they use it to feed the poor & help the needy. Seems a sad excuse not to donate to me. They are one of the few trustworthy organizations out there (I know, I’ve had them help my family when I was young).

    • That would be a good point if this were the only organization out there that helped worthy individuals, but it is not. You’re right in that it is a free country and they can believe what they want, but if I have a choice of helping people through an organization who practices beliefs similar to mine and one that practices beliefs that I personally think are wrong, there is no question about where I am giving my money.

      As for trustworthiness, I find it’s always a good idea to check the rating that gives an organization.

    • The question you should be asking is how much MORE money would the Salvation Army bring in if they stopped discriminating against gays and lesbians? I pass their bell ringers in Chicago all the time and would be happy to toss in some change if only their “aid to the needy” didn’t come with so many unpleasant strings attached.

      Yes, it’s their belief, and it’s a free country. And they’re only hurting themselves by not opening their minds and hearts to see gays as equal citizens.

      But anyway – I still love this mission. I actually think handbell music is lovely. I would have loved to be someone walking down the street when this happened!

    • Me too! He looked a little intimidated at first, but the guy behind him gave him a “you too!” nod, so he kept going! That was my favorite part of the video :)

  8. I hadn’t heard of the SA/gay issue and thought it would have been nice if each bell ringer dropped something into the bucket, but in light of it, I fully understand and think it was well handled.. IE staged a very non-involved event. Well done!

    • Me too! I glad I’m not the only one who teared up a little. What a beautiful way to create your Christmas mission.

  9. a total instant-smile! love it. so sweet. now it finally feels like the holidays are here! thanks for making such a funny, strange and wonderful, magical thing happen in nyc. has the mayor given you a key to the city yet?!

  10. Dear Agent Tood, All the Good IE agents and all the might ringers…Well done! I am your agent who also conducts choirs. We emailed about a hand bell choir a while back but I did not have access to one, so I am thrilled to see that this mission has been fulfilled and made so many joyful at this time of year!

  11. Here’s what your friends at the Salvation Army have to say about gays:

    …same-sex relationships which are genitally expressed are unacceptable according to the teaching of Scripture. Attempts to establish or promote such relationships as viable alternatives to heterosexually-based family life do not conform to God’s will for society.

    For this reason, and in obedience to the example of Jesus whose compassionate love was all-embracing, Salvationists seek to understand and sensitively to accept and help those of a homosexual disposition and those who express that disposition in sexual acts. …

    … homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, is controllable and may be morally evaluated therefore in the light of scriptural teaching.

    They sound like really nice people!

  12. I love this! I want to be a part of this sooo bad, but you are in the Seattle area…maybe I should start my own up here!

  13. What a beautiful idea and accomplishment! The thing that struck me was watching the faces of the “spectators;” there were a few big smiles, but so many just stared dumbfounded or perhaps wondering about some motive. Even the store employee looked a bit hesitant to step outside. The experience of unexpected spontaneous joy is something everyone should have at least once in a lifetime, . . . preferably more!

  14. One of the nicest “pranks” seen yet. Awesome job, guys.

    I just wonder – there are SO many fans of Improv Everywhere – I almost half expect someone to yell “WOO HOO it’s ImprovEverywhere!”

    It’s cool that you still manage to pull off these acts without anyone blowing your cover :) Two thumbs up for creativity and awesome good humour!!

  15. Wow. That was really wonderful. Good job guys! It sounded so beautiful. I’m glad that the church agreed to help or else this wouldn’t have been possible.

  16. Wow. I really enjoyed the video, both because the audio was excellent and because it’s such a wonderful prank. I loved the giant handbell.

  17. i love it! i work at bloomies and i see that guy all the time.. its never occured to me to sing with him though…

  18. Lately with all the “Musical” missions I have become disappointed in IE. After this mission I wanna welcome them back, with open arms. This was one of those things that was sooo simple, that it was great, and its also something everyone can be doing to make the world a little better of a place. I wanna thank IE for this mission, GREAT JOB!

  19. Great event and well executed. Kudos. The author of the summary made a point to highlight the Salvation Army’s “controversial beliefs” with a link but did not see fit to provide a link to a page that outlines the good they do through there efforts. My grandfather said they were the only organization that saw fit to bring food and supplies to the frontline and directly to him and his fellow soldiers in WWI. (According to his memory the Red Cross was nowhere to be found.) For their efforts to help him I’ll always be grateful.

  20. So sweet! And yes, Nacho… the guy continuing to ring his little bell made it even sweeter. :)

    I almost wish they didnt have the aprons on… just regular clothes. …would have made it more random.

  21. At first, I thought the mission said Guerrilla Handball Strikeforce and that you were going to be taking over some public space with some kick-ass 4 square handball action. In fact, maybe there is a mission there in itself…

  22. I’m curious why you would link to salvation army’s controversies, and not to any of their good works?

    Besides that, great improv. You can tell the bellringer was a bit overwhelmed, in a good way though.

  23. Wonderful surprise at this blessed time of the year.
    May God bless you with peace that passes all understanding..

  24. Awww. Brilliant bit of random improv to spread a little holiday cheer. I won’t donate money to the Salvation Army because they bar me from being a part of it — I donate to other charities instead — but I have no problem with a prank that is full of goodwill and says “joy to the world”! :)

  25. Nice mission. However I resent the coup bas (a hit a bit too low to my taste) by Charlie Todd against a well known charity which does plenty of good for people in need.

    I am not an evangelical Christian, very far from that. I don’t believe in many of their core dogma. But when a charity does plenty of good, they must be unreservedly applauded. Among all those who criticize the Salvation Army, how many can say they are at least as charitable as they are? How much do you do for people truly in need?

    Nobody forces you to donate to them. They are so many charities you can donate to. I simply wish people had the humility to acknowledge the good, charitable work done by others without adding useless stuff.

    Again, I don’t share many/most of the evangelicals’ beliefs. But we have had enough atrocious religious wars not to add our own petty attacks because we have a different belief system.

    I think it’s very low of Charlie Todd to highlight those so-called controversies.

  26. This one is my favorite mission so far. I love the SA bellringer’s face and watching him be a part of the choir. What an awesome mission! I wish it lasted longer.

  27. The “discrimination” you are so intent on talking about is that they do not allow practicing homosexuals to hold a ministry position. Any church has the right to choose who becomes a minister, and the salvation army is above all else, a church. Any charitable works that the S.A. does comes out of a their Christian beliefs. I’d also like to mention that people of a homosexual orientation do work for The salvation army in other positions. And EVERYONE is able to benefit (and often do)from their, to quote D. Nash, “aid to the needy” even gays, lesbians, and people who bash them on the internet– no questions asked.

    As far as accountability, they have internal and external audits, there’s been some great financial studies done on them, and not to mention the fact that they were required to give an account for their use of Katrina Donations and came up squeeky clean when compared with other charitable organizations (RED CROSS) which do get rated at
    Nor should we mention the millions of people the Army will feed, clothe, and give shelter to all over the world– who aren’t really all that concerned with your petty complaints tonight.
    So go ahead, pass up a kettle, miss the opportunity to help someone who needs it– Congratulations on that!
    I for one am glad that someone in this world if finally willing to stand up for what they believe in and not be wishy/washy or shamed into something that would compromise their beliefs.

  28. I am in a Handbell Choir, too.

    This was absolutely wonderful! Kudos to Christ Church United Methodist. May your tribe multiply.

    I have 4 cousins who are brothers who have served in the Salvation Army — 3 of whom are career Salvation Army officers; and another cousin (other side of the family) who was once a SA officer, resigning to raise a family while staying active in the same Corps (which is like a church). I am incredibly humbled by their life-time of loving, self-less, compassionate serving and giving to people. They are fun-loving, open-hearted, dedicated people who take no credit for themselves, but give all the Glory to God. What a credit they are to their families, their communities, their country, this planet, this universe. We could all learn a lesson. God Bless them, every one!

  29. Please… it’s not the place to be talking about the Salvation Army’s beliefs (besides, they are a religion, not just a charity).

    This was a really sweet thing to do. It certainly made the bellringer’s night, I’m sure. I hope he got more donations as a result of your bell choir.

  30. I thought it was a great mission.

    I rarely respond to missions but it seems that people have spewed their own concerns about sexuality. Then when someone tries to end it someone else brings it back up again. IE was not based upon anything other than what it is. Let’s not read into it, but, enjoy what it does. There should never be a connection between IE and controversial topics.

  31. How totally awesome! What a wonderful way to brighten peoples evening on a cold night in the city. You guys need to do something like this in Roanoke, VA. I just hope a camera man happens to be there to capture it.

    Keep up the good work!!!

  32. Hi Charlie and Friends – I really loved the “simplicity” and timing of this one; although I doubt any of these acts are “simple” in their execution. Every year around this time we are bombarded by the constant ringing of these bells and I have to admit it drives me insane. But here, you have taken the poison and made it the antidote, for a brief and powerful moment. Thank you and keep up the great work!

  33. This is awesome! At teh Salvation Army in my town, all the bellringers are volunteers, and my husband’s family (and sometimes neigbors) always volunteers every Christmas, except when they do it, they bring along guitars, mandolins, ukeleles, and sing all the parts to Christmas carols. There are ususally 4 to 8 people all standing around, singing or playing, or both. I go with them now every year, and it is SO much fun! We sing in a little cement enclosed entrance to the Piggly-Wiggly, so it sounds great! Everyone coming in and out of the store loves it!

  34. Loved the “prank”, but incredibly saddened by how many people took photos and video, and how few put anything in the bell ringers pot. Yes times are tough, but we need to step up and contribute, even a little bit, to those less fortunate than ourselves.

  35. The Salvation Army helps everyone regardless of race, beliefs, orientation or social standing. Too bad some of the posters here are ready to believe and spread the worst without the facts.

    My only beef about this mission, is that passers by were too thrilled with the preformance to donate …

  36. Blah blah blah controversy. This mission is specifically not about that, but thanks for clogging the comments field with discussion on it.

    Also, I love this one. Bell choirs are beautiful and I haven’t heard bell music since the last time I was in a church on Christmas. I would have loved to happen upon this!

  37. I agree that it should have been longer… but it was still great. This is more the sort of thing that I expect from improv everywhere (although I’m getting a little tired of the mp3 experiments and “buy our book” bids).

    Merry Christmas! (or happy holidays).

  38. I thought this was a fabulous gesture of kindness and Christmas Giving. I also, am puzzled as to how some people can develop hatred for anyone. I am a member of The Salvation Army and have been all my life, I have never discriminated against any person in my ministry or my life. I don’t think it is discrimination to require standards before enrollment. If the person doesn’t like the standards they don’t have to join. Soldiership in The Salvation Army may not be for all. But our mission is not to make everyone a soldier, it is to help those less fortunate in His Name without discrimination. That is what we are doing.

  39. What a brilliant thing to do. I loved that it was just a quick get in, play your song and leave thing. Made it just that much more surreal. Well done guys. New Yorkers are so lucky to have such a creative army of people to entertain them for free! You are great role-models and ambassadors. Thanks for making life a little brighter!

  40. Ok guys, that literally made me cry. Like seriously, I’m sitting here with tears coming down my face. I dont know what did it, but it touched my mushy little heart!!

  41. I wasn’t impressed as I’d hoped i would be. It was not spontaneous, but contrived. The red aprons impersonated the salvation army, The guy looked puzzled, not pleased, and passers by did not look impressed enough to donate, which, right or wrong, that poor guy was volunteering for. Then they walked off, smugly i though, and didn’t even give a donation or a sandwich to him. Hey, Truthteller, don’t assume your opinion is the truth when it comes to people you or i don’t know. You jumped to a conclusion about that other writer who claims the salvation army doesn’t discriminate against gays. You stretched it by passing judgement on Mark after telling him not to pass judgement on someone else-that’s not very nice.

  42. nice work improv. I was suprised to see people who knew how to ring bells and who owned such large hand bells involved in the mission until i read the backstory. I had not heard about Salvation Army’s policies towards homosexuals but it was interesting to learn about and not too suprising considering some of the biases of the christian church. But enough about big organizations, this was a nice gift to the world and to everyone who witnessed it.

  43. Super! Very atmospheric – helps to put everyone ‘in the mood’ for the Festive Season.
    Best wishes to you all.

  44. Thankyou for this. I read what you (the haters) are saying, but get a grip. The Salvation Army does not discriminate, it isn’t an issue for them. They see a part of their mission as to help, and they do so with love. We could all do with more love, so I clicked through to their Christmas Appeal. You might want to do so too, or not.

    This mission adds another 2.29 minutes of pure joy to the world, not a bad thing to do, many thanks again, and a merry Christmas to you all.

    Mind you Mick’s Gorilla Handbell Mission might have been even more brilliant…

  45. Loved it! Especially the Salvation Army worker and the crowd reactions. Wish the performance was a bit longer and that you guys did this at a couple different spots around the city.

  46. You’re missing the point with so much concern for the Salvation Army’s philosopy. It is just meant to be in the spirit of Christmas and goodwill, especially for the bellringer who enjoyed every minute of it. And the SA worker is ringing a bell – that’s the hinge for the whole thing.

  47. The point was not the Salvation Army; the point was the “prank.” I think it was brilliant :D I wonder what day it was? I was in NYC last weekend and I wonder if I was anywhere near it.

  48. haha, that was great! The bell ringer’s face when you guys started just appearing behind him.
    You guys gotta get a group together up in Alaska! I’d join in a heartbeat to do things like this.

    Awesome mission. :)

  49. Who cares about all this Salvation Army nonsense?

    Awesome job! I wish I was on 59th st to see it. That would have brightened my day for sure!!!

  50. That was awesome! Being a longtime member of a large handbell group we are now ready to pull this off in our home of Atlanta!

  51. AHAHAHAA!!
    thaat was soo cute!!
    a handbell choir huh?
    gonna be honest, i’ve never heard of it before, but they were AMAZING! that can’t be easy! making sure you ring it at the right time and stuff! then again, i guess its just like any other instrument! really liked this mission! and the bells sounded great!

  52. I think this mission was a great idea, and a wonderful kindness to the bellringer.

    As to the arguments above, may I just say that homophobic or not, I think it’s great when people, even people with different values, come together to help the less fortunate.

  53. I sure hope you all gave some money to his bucket afterwards. If not, what was the point other than being attention-whores?

  54. come on folks, it’s about christmas and the joy of the season. It’s not about personal agenda’s. Let it go. Your comments have made this so yucky, that it is no longer even appropriate to forward this moving incident to others who might sincerely have enjoyed sharing this with others. Take a breath and look at the bigger pictrue. It’s NOT about YOU !!!

    Christ was born to bring hope and eternal life to EVERYONE. He died for me and I live for him and love because of his example. Let his love shine through YOU. It is a pretty basic principle that gets so lost in personal agenda’s. God loves me and directs my path when I’m open to his direction. And, I am a gay 62 year old man.

  55. I thought this was a good mission. Especially around Christmas and everything, sometimes people forget to smile when dealing with the Christmas shopping rush.

    I’m sorry to see that people have to pick this apart just so they can have something to argue about, and not see the good in it and smile.

  56. I think this was a great idea. Would have loves to have been there to see it. Bravo to the ringers and the Salvation Army Ringer. Merry Christmas!

  57. To all who say the Salvation Army discriminates against homosexuals (gays) I leave you with the following thoughts … This is a completely charitable organization that is based on Christian principles and guided by Christian thoughts & teachings …Yes there are some paid positions within the Salvation Army, but their charitable giving is not in any way discriminatory – they give based on need. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is an abomination – but remember, Christ teaches that we are to love our brothers as ourselves. Think a paradox here? NO – hate the sin, not the sinner – just as Jesus would have done. God bless you all and Merry CHRISTmas

  58. Come on guys and gals! Give me a break The video isn’t about the Salvation Army, their values or even asking you to donate! It’s about making a lonely bell ringer’s day and also to contribute to the joys of Christmas shopping! Period!!! If you have a beef with the Sally Ann, take it up with them! This is certainly not the place or time for your negative remarks! This is the time of year to spread cheer and the spirit of giving!

  59. What’s all this “gay” crap? The video is fabulous and isn’t that the point? The pranksters are just great and bring a smile every time. This is just classic and as usual so unexpected.

    In the UK the Salvation Army doesn’t applaud drinking alcohol but it hasn’t stopped them collecting in pubs since forever or giving all drinkers a smile whether they contribute or not. Their bands play regularly over here and they just don’t push their views on others. They probably don’t support the “gay” practice but they don’t preach against it either.

    This Christmas over here they’ll be out feeding and looking after the homeless as usual.

    If you don’t know about the Savation Army you can’t critise. If you do know you won’t have a reason to critise.I have dealt with the Organisation although I am not a Salvationist

    Happy Christmas and a healthy and successful New Year to every last reader of this. May you achieve what ever you want no matter what.

  60. And I’m not gay either but some of my great friends are.

    I do however discriminate against zealot.

    Just enjoy life! Live and let live.

  61. I’m a Catholic and I’ve worked for The Salvation Army for 21 years. I witness their good works every day and am grateful for the Officers who have dedicated their lives to leading this great organization. They most certainly do NOT discriminate, against anyone and besides, the whole point of this video/story was to share a great deed and to spread a little Christmas cheer. Drop the politics and appreciate the small things in life; like this heart-warming stunt. Merry Christmas, all!

  62. Wow. People, this is not the blog to discuss the validity of the Salvation Army. If you want to do that, look one up online.

    Anyway, I really did enjoy this one. It’s been a while since I’ve been on IE and it’s nice to see good things going on.

    I wish people in the Dayton, Ohio area had the same mindset to enact this sort of thing.

    Keep up the good work.

  63. That’s what I miss about not living in a larger metropolitain area like New York City. This was a great random event that brought a lot of smiles.

  64. Wow! I’d like a copy of that arrangement so our church bell choir in Fairview OR (near Portland) can do it too! Totally tubular, guys!

    Thanks for a very creative way to add music to the “bell ringing” that is so literally monotonous. :D


  65. Very cool. I’ve rung bells for the salvation Army before and this made me smile!!

    As an aside, I was surprised (and more than a little disappointed) to learn they have to PAY bell ringers in NYC. My family (wife, kids and dog) have been doing this for years, and we always have to call early to get a 1 hour slot before they’re all gone… and NO ONE gets paid!!

  66. I went on some gay web sites looking for “gay friendly” charities. I couldn’t find any that help the needy, the destitute, the down-and-out. In fact, they were all self-serving non-profits and they don’t help you unless you’re gay-friendly. But, it’s a moot point as none of them ring bells, making such a “performance” impossible.

  67. I have seen all your videos and honestly every single one of them brings a tear to my eye .. The things you do for people amazes me .. It could be the biggest thing like best game ever .. or the smallest thing like high five escalater .. and it would still bring the same feeling .. thank you for showing these .. you have no idea how much it means that i saw these .. thank you again

  68. Who cares if they do or don’t discriminate against anyone? it’s a prank, a joke, a light hearted holiday season fun thing to do. Have your discrimination conversations in the appropriate forum which is not on Improv Anywhere, anyone who relates a joke or prank to any type of negativity isn’t build for comedy and should refrain from hearing or seeing it anywhere.

  69. What an utterly sweet prank! I second the bell-ringers in the comments– it would be cool if this were done nationwide!

    Regarding the Salvation Army’s policy on gays, at least they don’t seem to discriminate against their needy clients. I think it is a shame they won’t treat gays equally in their organization, though. I disagree with that.

    The part about banning gays comes from the Old Testament, in a very detailed and exhaustive thou-shalt-nots regarding sexual liasons. ‘A man with another man’ is one of a long list which includes a son with his father’s wife, etc etc. Seeing as the list is so detailed, it is very odd to notice that nowhere does it prohibit ‘a woman lying with another woman’, nor does it prohibit a man from lying with his own daughter. =8O

    Moreover, nowhere in the 4 Gospels does Jesus address homosexuality in any way. The closest he comes to it is in condemning ‘fornication’ among other sins. According to my dictionary, ‘fornication’ is simply “sex outside of marriage”… so where does that leave us??? :D

  70. To all of you who think SA should change their policies regarding homosexuals, consider that it would make their organization a fraud according to their religious beliefs. If you don’t stand for what you believe in, what’s the point?

  71. I probably shouldn’t say this but why does this whole nice event look like a set up for gay activism? Ok I sholdn’t have said it but this “contorversy” didn’t even have to come up in the first place.

  72. This is probably the most heart warming thing I found this year.
    Although I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I have to say I share the warm spirit too.

    Thank you, IE!
    Thank you for the bell ringer’s genuine smile!
    = )

  73. Our church’s youth handbell choir does this every year, only they take over the Salvation Army spot for a half hour! Shoppers really love it!

  74. Shame on you guys for giving more publicity to an organization that actively lobbies against and discriminates against gays. Mentioning the “controversy” is not adequate.

  75. First I’m watching a video about a cat riding a Roomba and next I see a video about an improvisation at a grocery store. Something about smashing fruit together which led to the Guerrilla Handbell Strikeforce…The internet can be so much fun! What a wonderful deed in a wonderful city performed by wonderful people for a wonderful single man out in the cold.

  76. I have seen a few of your videos in the past. I just tonight went to the website and watched quite a few of the different scenes that you guys have caused. It is truly inspiring to see the work you guys do. Bringing smiles to everyones faces in such funny, interactive, creative, musical and above all, spontaneous ways. I am in Austin, TX and would love to coordinate something similar in this area! Thanks for what you do! And I can’t wait to see what new things you guys come up with for 2010! :)

  77. Fantastic. Keep up the ‘recursive’ good job. Simply made me fall in love with you people for what you did.

    A big thankyou for recording and sharing it with all. Made me smile.

    Thanks to for putting this on her blog. I followed it from there.


  78. To the guys from IE and the choir that participated… this video moved me to tears. I know that sounds corny… but you guys brought out something I’ve never seen in any of your missions before. Real heart. You just made me a bigger fan.

    Cheers from Malaysia.

  79. That was just fantastic! Man, I love the looks on the passerby’s faces.
    I’ve been a long time fan, even bigger one now.
    Thanks for the video and pictures.


  80. i was so touched with this gesture that i was in tears…guess i found it such a nice charitable work…that’s why i love christmas..people are so generous and everybody is just into the merry making spirit!

  81. Hi guys,
    As a handbell enthusiast, I thank you for a great show.It kind of inspires some of us to think outside of the box in regards to handbell performances. The replies about certain aspects of the Salvation Army seem ridiculous and have little to do with the performance. Once again, thank you.

  82. I think the point of the video was not to point out that the Salvation Army is or is’nt bad…I think it was to show the joy that perfect strangers, straight or gay, can bring to a random person. Its the holiday season, EVERYONE put aside your opinions and enjoy mankind.

  83. I thought the Improv Everywhere piece was lovely. It even brought tears to my eyes. We need more of such random acts of beauty.

    As for the “controversy,” well, technically, the United Methodist Church discriminates against LGBT folks, too ( Christ Church United Methodist in Manhattan is a loving, welcoming and creative congregation. Clearly the church is a step ahead of the UMC.

    Same is true, I believe, of the many chapters and representatives of the Salvation Army. One of my close friends, a straight, single mom, was an employee of the local Salvation Army (until this month, when she quit to go to nursing school) and she certainly doesn’t discriminate against my same sex partner, our kid and me.

    I actually considered joining up with the SA until I saw that it prohibits any imbibing at all. I drink less than a dozen cocktails a year, but I’m not going to give up alcohol completely nor am I going to lie. So, yeah, SA discriminates against alcohol users, too!

    Show love and get love!

  84. Love the idea! I’m a member of multiple handbell choirs and would have loved to participate had it been in my area.

  85. Lovely! I wish I’d been one of the passers-by for this, and I agree that you probably made that bell-ringer’s night. I loved that he joined in, with his tiny little bell! p.s. nice arrangement too. ;-)

    To all the bell-ringers who have commented, I say there’s always next year!

  86. I am gay, and I thought the whole idea in it self was just glorious. I started crying half way through, for I understood the meaning of what was going on. Thank you Improv.

    Happy New Years!!!


  87. It’s was a lovely sweet christmas surprise for the bell ringer! I think it’s the warmest christmas for him ever.^^

  88. Gosh…you’d think all these people would at least say how awesome the bell ringing here is. And it really is….I never even knew this was a kind of music–I definitely want to hear more! I keep replaying it just to hear the song! So thanks, IE, you just introduced me to a whole new kind of music :3 I’m a happy girl. (And now I have to figure out if you have to search for bands or choirs or what with this stuff. o.o;;)

    But as to this prank…it’s just cute. I’m glad that guy enjoyed it–I was a little worried he wouldn’t, like with the Best Buy thing. But the interview implies otherwise, so all’s good!